Wednesday, September 9

Parallel Lines

As apposed to catching everyone up on all the lastest in my life, which is pretty much the same, I thought I would share a bit of writing I did recently on facebook. My friend Mike asked me about a line from the new Jay-Z album in which Jay claims to be the new Frank Sinatra. He believed that this should in some way “bother” me, as I assume it did him. My response was a tad lengthy but I had fun writing it. I also encourage everyone to go out and buy the new Jay-Z album, The Blueprint 3. It is a return to form for the artist and I think a strong contender for “Album of the Year.”

This is an argument that I thought you might bring up. I am ready with my answer. Jay-Z Position # 1: "No one on the corner has swagger like us." Whether or not you grant the validity of this statement it is the belief of the parties involved with the track that they, in fact, have unimpeachable swagger. While the term is ill-defined one may assume that in includes categories of behavior such as "pimpin'," "runnin' this rap shit," and the lack of dirt on a person's shoulders. These might translate into: being popular with the ladies, having a successful career (possibly being one's own boss) and having a sense of personal style and panache, both in fashion and general taste.

Jay-Z Position # 2: "I'm the new Sinatra." This lyric, within the context of Mr. Z's first claim, begins to make sense. If one was to examine the three defining features of "swagger" in relation to Mr. Sinatra the parallel is clear. Old Blue Eyes (if you will permit me to use the vernacular) was a cocksman of the highest caliber and he most certainly ran a mini-empire that included the Rat Pack and possible associations with organized crime. Lastly, his style, from the cuff links to the champagne he served, was purposeful and still sartorial. Even if you do not grant that Jay has "swagger" I assume from your concern over his boast that you believe Mr. Sinatra did.

At this point I have demonstrated why Jay-Z sees himself as the new Sinatra but this does not necessarily rule out a third party disagreeing with the claim. My Position #1: Hip Hop, culturally and stylistically, resembles the halcyon days of the Rat Pack. This is both intentional comparison made by rappers and unintentionally accurate in a wider sense. Drinking, womanizing, going to fashionable places with a group of followers (be they a pack or a posse) are all shared activities. They both started with music and became a lifestyle (Jay's mogul status and Frank's "Chairman of the Board" moniker are for more than just musical prowess). Both became the preeminent stylistic vernacular of cool and changed their time period's understanding of the very term cool.

I do not think I have to defend the statement that Old Blue Eyes was the epicenter of the movement. Sure, Hefner, Martin and JFK all exemplify this too but none managed the whole package like Frank did. My Position # 2: The role of Sinatra is filled by Jay-Z. Now, but this leader status comes with a few qualifiers. 1) In our post-Modern world the ability to unify under one style, even within a single sub-genre, is impossible. Jay will, therefore, never be as commercially successful as Frank or seems as "on top of the world." 2) I do not see Jay as being the cornerstone of rap. People did it before him, have done it better than him, and there are artists I like far more but he is iconic. Sean Combs had a chance of being the icon of rap but he has fallen far short. So did Dre but the long silences between releases put an end to that. Everyone else is either: not a mogul, not as successful or hasn't been in the game long enough. Jay-Z is the last man standing.

To conclude: Jay-Z is not Frank Sinatra but he is the new Sinatra in archetype. He is our Sinatra, whatever you think about the image and how it has changed over time there is little doubt in my mind that Jay-Z is under our collective skin. While we may not get a kick out of him, he is about as lucky as one guy gets.

Listening to: “Daylight (Troublemaker Remix feat. De La Soul)” by Matt and Kim from the upcoming NBA Live 2k9 Soundtrack and “Off That (feat. Drake)” by Jay-Z from The Blueprint 3. The post’s title is from Begone Dull Care by Junior Boys (Thanks, Shah!). The picture was taken by me on the way to Salisbury to visit my Granddad last month, taken on the Bay Bridge.

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